Reading the Advance Sheets can be hazardous to your mental health
The first three cases in the July 7 Advance Sheet of the South Carolina Supreme Court were disciplinary actions involving a litany bad acts of South Carolina attorneys. Collectively, the facts were downright depressing to lawyers who attempt to behave.
The first case* resulted in a disbarment of a lawyer who borrowed almost $100,000 from his trust account to make payroll and to cover other law firm operating expenses. The money was repaid within ten months!
The attorney attempted to correct this sorry state of affairs by reconciling his trust account, hiring a licensed CPA for all accounting and bookkeeping functions of his firm, giving the trust accounting responsibilities to another lawyer in the firm and completing Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School, Trust Account School, and Advertising School. He was disbarred anyway. We have heard the moral of this story many, many times. The Supreme Court will not allow a lawyer to dip into the trust account, not even for a few months.
The second case**, also a disbarment, involved a Solicitor (prosecutor) who embezzled public funds for private use. This lawyer was indicted in 2018 by a federal grand jury on twenty-six counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and theft of federal funds. He was also indicted by the State Grand Jury on three counts of misconduct in office and embezzlement of public funds. This lawyer served a year in federal prison, and his state criminal charges are still pending.
The third case*** resulted in a three-year suspension. Following a traffic stop, the lawyer was arrested and charged with four counts of possession of a controlled substance. Items located in the vehicle included a plastic bag with five suspected ecstasy pills, a plastic bag with five white pills believed to be hydrocodone pills, a plastic bag with an amount of suspected “molly” and two plastic bags containing approximately eight grams of an item suspected to be cocaine. Also located in the vehicle was a marijuana pipe containing a small amount of marijuana and a white pill bottle containing suspected marijuana. The charges were dismissed by the Solicitor’s office because of concerns regarding the legality and constitutionality of the stop and search.
The lawyer failed to notify the Commission in writing within fifteen days of her arrest and, although the charges were dismissed, the lawyer admitted the misconduct. The lawyer was also terminated as counsel in 18 bankruptcy cases by the Trustee for failure to respond to clients.
Perhaps the Supreme Court placed these three cases back-to-back in the Advance Sheet as a stark reminder to all of us of the many and diverse ways we can get into trouble. Lawyers, be smart, be careful and stay safe out there!
* In the Matter of Hopkins, South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion 28042 (July 7, 2021).
** In the Matter of Johnson, South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion 28043 (July 7, 2021).
** In the Matter of MacLean, South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion 28044 (July 7, 2021).